Peter Ackroyd has already written a paean to London in his 2000 doorstop London: The Biography. Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day is a much shorter book, a celebration and idiosyncratic pocket history of gay life from Roman Londinium to today. Ackroyd writes that "queer" is "an accommodating term, and will be used as such in this study." His book is similarly accommodating, allowing for a fluid definition of queerness that takes into account the enormous cultural differences that make applying such a label tricky. Ackroyd also opts for a playful comic tone that pairs well with the riotous subject matter.
From London's founding, "urban life was conducted in the Roman fashion," which meant the common practice of sexual relationships "between master and slave or between man and boy." After London was Christianized, queerness and same-sex love frequently came to be associated with royalty and their courts, as well as the tightly knit military caste. Ackroyd writes movingly about persecution over the centuries and about crises such as the outbreak of AIDS in London.
Queer City is far from downbeat, however, gleefully recounting a 17th-century description that "may be the first example of what became known as the 'swishy' gay" and giving his chapters suggestive titles such as "Bring on the dancing boys." Ackroyd's is an unrepentantly "queer narrative" and a tribute to the enduring vibrancy of gay life in London. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.